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Article

Benjamin Fortson

Cuneiform denotes any of at least three writing systems of ancient Mesopotamia and the surrounding areas. It is characterized in its classical form by signs consisting of one or more wedge-shaped strokes (cf. Latin cuneus, “wedge”). The first such script to emerge, and the one most widely used, was Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, which developed in what is now southern Iraq in the late 4th millennium bce. Its antecedents were more primitive methods of mercantile record-keeping using pictograms and tally marks. The earliest stages of the script contained patently pictographic signs drawn in clay with a pointed stylus. A later shift to the use of a reed with the end cut at an oblique angle produced the classic wedge-shaped impressions. The breaking-up of images into sets of wedges together with a gradual reduction in the number of strokes plus a ninety-degree rotation of the signs increased their abstractness and elevated the wedges (initially just an accidental byproduct of the writing technology) to an important design element. It became aesthetically prized in its own right and was carried over onto other media such as stone. The wedges were also imitated in the two other unrelated scripts that are also called cuneiform: Old Persian and Ugaritic.

Article

Rex E. Wallace

The Lemnian language was spoken by the inhabitants of Lemnos, an island in the northern Aegean, in the period before Attic Greek colonization. Lemnian is preserved on sixteen inscriptions dating to the second half of the 6th centurybce. Most inscriptions are single words incised or painted on ceramic vessels.1 Inscriptions on stone monuments provide the bulk of the evidence for the language.

Lemnian inscriptions were written in an alphabet that had its roots in Phrygia, but several letters—theta, phi, and khi—were borrowed from Greek. Other accommodations were made in order to represent more faithfully the Lemnian sound system. The letters for voiced stops and for the vowel ypsilon were eliminated. Words in inscriptions were separated by punctuation in the form of a colon or a tri-colon ⋮. The direction of writing was typically left to right, but lines in longer inscriptions were frequently written in boustrophedon style.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

South Picene was the Sabellic language spoken in east-central coastal Italy by a people who called themselves Safinús (Sabines, see Sabini). Examples of the language are found on about two dozen inscriptions, which date mostly from the late 6th centurybce, with a few from the 4th. Almost all are funerary texts for warriors on monumental stelae. The South Picene alphabet was not fully deciphered until the mid-1980s by Anna Marinetti. Her work revealed texts of considerable linguistic and cultural interest. Several are poetic, most famously one that reads, postin viam videtas tetis tokam alies esmen vepses vepeten, meaning approximately “along/behind the road you see the toga/covering of Titus Alis, buried (?) in this tomb.” Its bipartite alliterative phrases and its run of three heptasyllables, each structured 2×2×3, are reminiscent of the Saturnian. Given the paucity and often poor preservation of the remains and difficulties with their interpretation, South Picene morphology and syntax can only be sketched, but it appears to be of the typical Sabellic type; noteworthy is a 3rd person plural, perfect ending in -úh, apparently from *-ont.

Article

John Penney

The name is a conventional label applied to the language of some 220 very short inscriptions from the Alpine region to the north of Verona. These date from the 5th to 1st centuries bce and are written in an alphabet of Etruscan origin on bronze objects, antlers, or ceramics. The texts are not completely understood, but from certain similarities in vocabulary, and especially in the formation and declension of personal names, it has been shown that the language is related to Etruscan.

Article

Jean Turfa

The study of the inscriptions written in the Etruscan language and alphabet, usually texts incised on stone, pottery, or metal objects, or occasionally on more fragile media such as ink-on-cloth. Dipinti (painted inscriptions) appear on vases and frescoes, especially from tombs at Tarquinia, Chiusi, and Vulci. The unique characteristics of the non-Indo-European Etruscan language and its seminal place in transmission of the “Roman” alphabet and numerals make it impractical to divorce linguistic, historical, and social considerations from the study of Etruscan epigraphy. The gradual replacement of Etruscan with Latin characters and language may serve as an index of the political and social domination of the Roman state.The alphabet reached Etruria during the 8th centurybce; the earliest exemplar is a set of rocchetti (spools/tablet-weaving weights) incised with the letter A, in a woman’s burial at Veii, implying the involvement of women weavers in its dissemination.1 Early examples (7th-century, especially abecedaria or sample alphabets) retain letter forms developed in western Greek colonies such as Pithekoussai, including letters not used in the pronunciation of Etruscan.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

The Punic language was the variety of the Northwest Semitic language Phoenician spoken in Carthage and its colonies in the western Mediterranean basin (see Phoenicians). Remains of the language have been found primarily in North Africa but also in France, Spain, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands, and date from the 6th centurybce to the 5th centuryce. There is possible evidence that Punic continued to be spoken in North Africa as late as the Arab conquest in the 7th century. Until the fall of Carthage in 146bce, Punic was not distinct from a kind of standard Phoenician in use elsewhere, but after this time, when Carthage’s ties to the Phoenician homeland were severed, it diverged more noticeably, especially in its writing system but also in its phonology and lexicon, the latter affected by loanwords from other North African languages (in particular, Berber) and Latin. Inscriptions up to the fall of Carthage are written in the Phoenician alphabet, after which a cursive form, called Neo-Punic, is generally used instead. A collection of late inscriptions (4th–5th centuryce) from interior Tripolitania are written in the Latin alphabet, sometimes with admixture of Latin; and in a few cases the Greek alphabet was used as well.

Article

Ulfila  

Peter Heather

Ulfila, “little wolf,” Gothic bishop (see goths), fl. c. 340–382 ce, was born in Gothia of the stock of Roman prisoners from Cappadocia. Famous for translating the Gothic Bible, of which the surviving Gospels closely reflect his work. Closely involved in Gotho-Roman diplomatic relations, he worked in Gothia for only seven years before being expelled (c. 348); his precise role in the formal conversion of the Goths as they crossed the Danube in 376 is unclear. He also played a major role in eastern Church affairs as a leader of the anti-Nicene coalition dominant in the mid-4th century.

Article

Rex E. Wallace

This article describes the current state of our knowledge of the Etruscan language. The presentation covers language relationships, approaches to interpretation, alphabet and phonology, morphology and syntax, and the lexicon. Illustrative examples of Etruscan inscriptions complement the linguistic description.Contemporary views about the Etruscan language vary dramatically. Some scholars regard the language as obscure and mysterious; others believe the longest and most complicated texts can be translated. The truth lies somewhere between these extremes. Our knowledge of the structure of the language is much richer than it was fifty years ago, but large gaps remain in our understanding of the grammar, lexicon, and texts—larger than is the case with other languages of comparable attestation.Access to Etruscan is made more difficult by its genetic isolation, which was already recognized by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Ant. Rom. 1.30.2). The only languages that have so far been shown to be related to Etruscan—that is, to be descended from a common source (referred to now as Proto-Tyrrhenian)—are (a) .

Article

John Penney

There is no evidence for any form of writing in Italy before the arrival of Greek colonists in the 8th century bce. The Euboean alphabet brought by settlers at Pithecusae (mod. Ischia) and Cumae was borrowed by the Etruscans, who acted as intermediaries for the spread of writing throughout much of the peninsula. Only in southern regions adjacent to other Greek settlements was the Greek alphabet again borrowed directly, as in Lucania (for writing Oscan see Sabellic languages) and the Sallentine peninsula (with some modifications, for writing Messapian). Greek cities, of course, continued to write in the Greek alphabet throughout antiquity.An alphabet learnt as such (the theoretical alphabet) may contain more letters than are used in practice. So a number of 7th-century Etruscan abecedaria (written-out alphabets) adhere to the Greek model and include letters such as b, d, or o that are not found in texts: abcdevzhθiklmnsopśqrstuṡφχ.